The international community confronts the Somali pirates
The latest attack on a Saudi oil tanker (M/V "Sirius Star"-Liberian flag) by Somali pirates, has presented once more the inability of the international community to solve the issue of safe maritime trade in the vital area between the horn of Africa and the Aden Straights. The vessel was carrying oil worth more than 100 million USD, equivalent to 3% of the daily production, truly a significant amount for the world energy trade. According to the latest reports the ship is currently being transferred to Somalia where the radical Islamists have taken over control of most of the country.
The pirates are actually a part of the criminal & extremist network that has gripped tightly Somalia over the past generation. In most attacks they use an array of sophisticated weapons such as machine guns, RPG's and grenades and also are accustomed to the use of new technology, GPS, satellite phones and night vision goggles. A great part in the preparation of every piracy attack is being placed in the cooperation of local fisherman that usually alert pirates of incoming ships and in some cases divert the attention of the crew members when an attack is imminent. It is also of importance to point out that ransoms are usually being paid to intermediates based in the Arab Gulf states that facilitate through capital transfer and keep a percentage themselves. In reality the piracy issue is a crystal clear case of international organized crime activity.
The pirates are mostly interested in ransom extracted by the ship's owners and according to the British institute Chatham; they were able to gain more than 30 million USD only in October 2008. It is speculated that a part of their substantial earnings is being invested in the arms black market from where they are able to acquire the necessary equipment in order to spread the political aims of the Islamic leaders in Somalia. Moreover there is a trend towards the investment in the trade of "Catha edulis" a Yemen & Eastern African narcotic, widely used by the name Khat.
This drug trade has developed a lot over the past decade with New York, London and Amsterdam being the major import hubs. For the moment the most lucrative occupation in Somalia and Yemen is piracy closely followed by drug trade, two local industries related to each other.
The insurance fees due to the pirate wave have increased and that means the cost of transportation of goods has being affected across the globe.
One of the main hideouts by pirates in Somalia is the Pundland region which is governed in essence by pirates and it is out of reach of the Law and the authorities. Many other smaller pirate groups tend to gather in the southern parts of the country, close to the borders with Kenya from where they also launch land attacks by robbing estates and kidnap tourists.
Presently NATO, EU and Russia have sent navy patrols in the sea area offshore Somalia and have already averted some attacks. Over the coming days a fleet will be sent by European countries and will be managed by UK that offered its headquarters.
The operation is codenamed "Eunavfor Atalanta" and it is being decided under the UN decisions 1816, 1838 and it has an initial deployment period of 12 months.
The British Rear-Admiral Philip Jones will be the Commander of the Operational Head Quarters (OHQ) in Northwood-UK. It will include 3 frigates, 3 naval patrol aircraft, 4 naval helicopters and one support ship. Moreover a Force Commander's Head Quarters-Maritime Component Command (FHQ-MCC) of 20 officers will be formed based in one of the ships.
Greece will assume command of the FHQ-MCC and will deploy one frigate, one helicopter, and staff for the OHQ and a team of Navy Seals.
The world community waits for the successful completion of this mission that has to tackle a great cause of concern for the world trade. On the other hand failure would only cause proliferation of anomy in the Indian Ocean which will destabilize the local societies and may become a root cause for future conflicts and wars.
Ioannis Michaletos is WSN Editor South East Europe,WSN Coordinator of Southeastern European office.